Abstract: Under moderate conditions, reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been shown to inhibit sperm motility after several hours of incubation. The rapid decrease in flagellar beat frequency observed within the first hour of contact between ROS and spermatozoa was associated with a rapid loss of intracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Motility of intact spermatozoa ceased when their ATP concentration was reduced by 85 ±- 5%. Axonemal damage was confirmed when ROS-treated spermatozoa could not reactivate motility after demembranation in a medium containing magnesium adenosine triphosphate (Mg.ATP). However, in conditions allowing rephosphorylation of the axonemes (addition of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, or cAMP, and protein kinase or sperm extracts to the demembranation medium), the motility could reactivate. Three lines of evidence suggested that ATP depletion induced by ROS treatment was responsible for the effects observed in spermatozoa. First, the rapid decrease in intracellular ATP observed after ROS treatment was closely followed by a decrease in beat frequency, loss of intact sperm motility, and axonemal damage due to insufficient phosphorylation. Second, incubation of spermatozoa with the combination pyruvate-lactate allowed maintenance of sperm ATP at a normal level and prevented the effects of ROS; furthermore, spermatozoa immobilized after ROS treatment, then supplemented with pyruvate-lactate, were able to reinitiate motility in parallel with an increase in their ATP level. Third, treatment of spermatozoa with rotenone, an ATP depleting agent, produced effects similar to ROS treatment and could also be reversed by the addition of pyruvate-lactate. These data are consistent with the conclusion that ROS treatment produced axonemal damage mostly as a result of ATP depletion However, other mechanisms, such as inhibition of sperm protein kinases, are probably involved.